A commercial airplane in shallow water. (Source: Official Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff’s Office Twitter Handle)

Boeing 737 Slides Off Runway Into Florida River After Landing

(Bloomberg) -- The National Transportation Safety Board will evaluate a range of factors that could help explain how a Boeing 737-800 plane arriving from Cuba slipped into a river after skidding off a runway in Florida, from human error to the weather to the airport’s systems.

“We are very early in the beginning phase of this investigation,” Bruce Landsberg, NTSB vice chairman, said during a news conference on Saturday.

The chartered flight operated by Miami Air International Inc. was carrying 136 passengers and seven crew when it left the runway at Naval Air Station Jacksonville on Friday evening, Boeing Co. said in a statement. Authorities said there were no fatalities and only minor injuries.

The NTSB quickly dispatched a “Go Team” of 16 to lead the investigation.

NTSB recovered the flight data recorder, which has been sent to Washington for evaluation, but the cockpit voice recorder remains inaccessible in the plane, which is still partially submerged, said Landsberg. The plane had no prior history of accident or incident, and is one of over 4,000 of such planes worldwide, he said.

The Jacksonville airport runway has pavement that isn’t grooved, Landsberg said, adding that it was unclear if the lack of grooves was a factor in the skid. Runway grooving can be an aid to drainage.

The NTSB said they couldn’t confirm that pets on board the plane had died, but an investigator didn’t spot any pet carriers above the water line, said Capt. Michael Connor, a commanding officer at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

The investigations team has “expertise in aircraft operations, structures, power plants, human performance, weather, airports and other areas,” the NTSB said earlier. Boeing said it’s providing technical assistance at the request and under the direction of the NTSB.

While it isn’t clear yet what led to the plane ending up in the river, the incident comes as Boeing remains enmeshed in one of the biggest crises in its century-long history.

The plane maker has been on the defensive since its 737 Max planes crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing 346 people in a span of five months. The 737 Max plane has been grounded as the company tries to convince airlines and regulators it will be safe once a software update is installed.

The chartered flight in Friday’s crash arrived from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, according to Naval Air Station Jacksonville in a post on its Facebook page. Images show the plane partially submerged in the St. Johns River.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said soon after the accident on Friday that teams were working to control jet fuel in the water. The St. Johns River is the longest in Florida, flowing some 310 miles, and is a major shipping route around Jacksonville.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.